top of page

Suicide in Montana

I recently attended the Montana State SHRM Conference and Karl Rosston, a Suicide Prevention Coordinator with the State of Montana, spoke. His topic struck a chord with me; it was about suicide in Montana.  I was ignorant to the depth and the pervasiveness of suicide and I’m certain many others are as well.  Read on to learn more about this problem and some things each of us should be aware of.

Here are some statistics to share with you: 


Suicide in Montana

Data Source: 2016 National Vital Statistics Reports (December, 2017), Montana Office of Epidemiology and Scientific Support (January, 2018), Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey (September, 2017)

  • For all age groups, Montana has ranked in the top five for suicide rates in the nation, for the past thirty years. In a report for 2016 in the National Vital Statistics Report, Montana had the second highest rate of suicide in the nation (267 suicides for a crude rate of 25.6)

  • In Montana, the highest rate of suicide is among American Indians (35.5 per 100,000) although they only constitute 6% of the state’s population.  Caucasians are second at 28.1 per 100,000.

  • Firearms (63%), suffocation (19%), and poisoning (12%) are the most common means of suicide in Montana.  Other means include carbon monoxide, overdose, motor vehicles accidents, and jumping from heights.

  • In Montana in 2014-15, the youth suicide (ages 10-17) rate is 11 per 100,000.  This is almost triple the national rate for the same age group. Over the last ten years, 65% of the youth suicides were completed by firearms.

  • According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, during the twelve months before the survey, 9.5% of all Montanan students in grades 9 through 12 had made a suicide attempt and 14.8% of 7th and 8th graders.  For American Indian students, 18.3% had attempted suicide one or more times in the twelve months before the survey. There is a 380% increase in suicidal ideations for students getting “D”’s compared to “A”’s.

  • Suicide is the number one cause of preventable death in Montana for children ages 10-14.

  • Over the past ten years suicide is the number two cause of death for children ages 10-14, adolescents ages 15-24 and adults ages 25-44.

  • Studies show that for every completed suicide, there are 6 survivors.  Given there are approximately 220-230 suicides in Montana every year, that means there are about 1,400 new survivors every year in Montana. A survivor of suicide is 3x the risk of completing suicide themselves.


Social Factors Associated with Suicide

Suicidal behavior is associated with a wide variety of social factors, but correlates most highly with:

  • Social isolation (isolation from peers or social relationships that are troubled)

  • Social disorganization (society lacks the regulatory constraints necessary to control the behavior of its members)

  • Downward social mobility (socioeconomic)

  • Rural residency


Approximately 90% of those who complete suicide suffers from mental illness.

  • The most frequent diagnosis is major depression

  • The second most frequent diagnosis is alcoholism




Offer support if a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide. He or she needs professional help, even if suicide isn't an immediate danger. Here's what you can do.

  • Encourage the person to seek treatment. Someone who is suicidal or has severe depression may not have the energy or motivation to find help. If your friend or loved one doesn't want to consult a doctor or mental health provider, suggest finding help from a support group, crisis center, faith community, teacher or other trusted person. You can help by offering support and advice — but remember that it's not your job to become a substitute for a mental health provider.

  • Offer to help the person take steps to get assistance and support. For example, you can research treatment options, make phone calls and review insurance benefit information, or even offer to go with the person to an appointment.

  • Encourage the person to communicate with you. Someone who's suicidal may be tempted to bottle up feelings because he or she feels ashamed, guilty or embarrassed. Be supportive and understanding and express your opinions without placing blame. Listen attentively and avoid interrupting.

  • Be respectful and acknowledge the person's feelings. Don't try to talk the person out of his or her feelings or express shock. Remember, even though someone who's suicidal isn't thinking logically, the emotions are real. Not respecting how the person feels can shut down communication.

  • Don't be patronizing or judgmental. For example, don't tell someone, "Things could be worse" or "You have everything to live for." Instead, ask questions such as, "What's causing you to feel so bad?", "What would make you feel better?" or "How can I help?".

  • Never promise to keep someone's suicidal feelings a secret. Be understanding but explain that you may not be able to keep such a promise if you think the person's life is in danger. At that point, you have to get help.

  • Offer reassurance that things will get better. When someone is suicidal, it seems as if nothing will make things better. Reassure the person that these feelings are temporary, and that with appropriate treatment, he or she will feel better about life again.

  • Encourage the person to avoid alcohol and drug use. Using drugs or alcohol may seem to ease the painful feelings, but ultimately it makes things worse — it can lead to reckless behavior or feeling more depressed. If the person can't quit on his or her own, offer to help find treatment.

  • Remove potentially dangerous items from the person's home, if possible. If you can, make sure the person doesn't have items around that could be used to commit suicide — such as knives, razors, guns or drugs. If the person takes a medication that could be used for overdose, encourage him or her to have someone safeguard it and give it as prescribed.


Take all signs of suicidal behavior seriously

If someone you know says he or she is thinking of suicide or is behaving in a way that makes you think the person may be suicidal, don't play it down or ignore the situation. Many people who commit suicide have expressed the intention at some point. You may worry that you're overreacting, but the safety of your friend or loved one is most important. Don't worry about straining your relationship when someone's life is at stake.


You're not responsible for preventing someone from taking his or her own life — but your intervention may help the person see that other options are available to stay safe and get treatment. 



This information was taken directly from the presentation.  For more information please contact Mr. Rosston as shown below or visit the website noted below.


Karl Rosston, LCSW

Suicide Prevention Coordinator


bottom of page